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Financial crisis philosophy

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Somewhere, I don’t know where exactly on the internet (but it had a .com ending), I noticed a debate on “the advantages of the crisis”. It is always necessary to look at things in an original way, said a participant in the debate. As an example, he cites the case of the attack on Pearl Harbour: It took the United States out of its “splendid isolation” and hurled it into the war. What would we Europeans have done without the participation of America? So let’s give it a go: What are the advantages of the crisis?

Firstly: Like in the case of Pearl Harbour, the crisis brought the world together. A crisis always brings different groups together. It has been said for a long time now that it’s a pity that Europe does not have a bigger common enemy (Europeans have led all wars amongst themselves; from the outside, the only attack in modern history came from the Ottoman Empire). It is much easier to integrate when you are being threatened from outside because you suddenly have reason to come together. The advantage of the financial crisis is that it is impacting nearly all of Western civilization – it is forcing all of us, therefore, to join forces against a common enemy. Tolkien’s Fellowship of the Ring wasn’t formed because its members wanted to take a stroll but because they had to solve a common problem. An elf became friends with a dwarf at a time of trouble. Only when things were peaceful could they afford the luxury of not getting along. When they had to fight goblins, they no longer had time for that.

Secondly: the crisis is a phenomenon of growth. Have you ever noticed that while cleaning up a room you sometimes create a bigger mess than what was there before? That if you are painting a room, it becomes less usable than it was before? That the best method to clean out a drawer is to overturn its contents and actually create more chaos before instilling better order?

It is like that with all our earthly business: We can attain greater order only through chaos and disorder. We don’t know how to increase the level of order in a given system without some temporary disorder first. As we move up, we experience ocassional slides downward. This has always been the case, and this principle can be seen everywhere. Before using the water of life [in fairytales], one first needs to use the water of death; before arriving in the promised land, one must first cross a desert. And the greatest example in our civilisation: Before being forgiven for our sins, there had to be the sacrifice of Jesus Christ; a descent into hell preceded his ascent into heaven.

The human race simply cannot do it differently. We grow through declines and crises. We don’t know how to grow smoothly. We learn through mistakes. Every hill stands next to a valley.

In the urbanist “post-punk” sci-fi novel Perdido Street Station, crisis energy, generated from ubiquitous latent chaos, is used as fuel. Crises are essential to our existence. We are like a tube of toothpaste: We need to be squeezed before something substantial comes out. We must hope, however, that the size of the crisis will be of a size we are able to handle and will not be fatal. We need that squeeze to be firm but gentle, so that it gives us strength without killing us. Everything seems to suggest that this will be the case.

Tomáš Sedláček

(1977) is the chief macroeconomic strategist with ČSOB. After completing his studies, he worked as economic adviser to President Havel (2001–2003) and as expert adviser to the Finance Ministry (2004–2006). He lectures on philosophy, economy and the history of economic theory at FSV UK. He is a scholarship holder at Yale University.

Translated with permission by the Prague Daily Monitor.

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